Thursday, July 12, 2007

Someone to Eat Cheese With

I was never a serial dater in college. I dated a few guys, but nothing was ever very serious and I can’t say that I think I missed out on too much. But at my college commencement ceremony last year (and apparently every year because I think college presidents have a stock commencement address socked away), our President informed us that we’d most likely met our future husband/wife at college. That was entirely distressing, but like most of the advice/comments/helpful (read: not very helpful and more depressing than anything else) I received in the run-up to my quarter life crisis inducing graduation from college, I didn’t was “an inconvenient truth” if you will.

Somewhere along the line, my generation decided to skip the memo about debaucherous twenties fueled by drugs, sex and alcohol. Instead, my closest friends have shacked up and gotten married, or are on the verge of doing so. College, apparently, was where the debauchery began and ended, and I often find myself having conversations with friends about cookware and weekend trips to quaint towns frequented by retirees. This wouldn’t be so troublesome to me if I was a) a retiree or b) in a relationship. I am the one of my friends who is single, and as I tread the waters of corporate America, I find that I’m probably going to be that way for a while. And though my friends are married (or close to it), I think the only reason why I'm truly concerned is because I fear my college President was correct, and that the only time I ever had access to a huge pool of prospective husbands has slipped passed me while I pursued what I thought was the point of college; a degree.

I spend 8-10 hours a day at work, and by the time I get home, I don’t really have the energy to go to a bar and attempt to find guys. Nothing is less appealing to me than the club scene, so where do I go to find Mr. Right? The answer would appear to be work…but that leads to potentially treacherous waters. The people I share cubicle space with are by and large at least a decade older than I am. An added bonus is that they’re also almost all married, and so as a force of habit, when I see a cute guy, I first check his lefthand before making eye contact.

Written out, these concerns sound truly pathetic. And I realize that I'm quite young and shouldn't be so concerned, but...I can't help it.

The one thing that this whole experience has afforded me is the opportunity to cultivate a crush. I haven't had a real, true crush since sophomore year of high school. And the difference now is that in high school, I allowed myself to harbor fantasies that my crush and I would one day go to a dance together or maybe even on a real date. My friends and I passed notes that had his name written in the margins and I tried desperately to sound intelligent in the Honors English class we had together. Now, my days are spent trying to catch a glimpse of my office crush as he saunters down the cubicle aisles, but do so without him knowing. I avoid talking to him at all costs and have doubled back to my cube when I see him making his way to one of my neighbors. I won't lie; it's a bit of a thrill to get that stomach flip or a flush of red to the cheeks when he comes near. But eventually, this will all get old, and I'll circle back to the President's words, wondering which of my former flames, college classmates or group members will be the man I spend my evenings watching obscure foreign films and drinking tea with.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Group Dynamics

As a student, you often wonder why your teachers/professors force you into the torture of group presentations and projects. Students invariably assume what seem to be roles assigned in kindergarten: the worker bee, the slacker, the bossy one, the busy one and the one who goes beyond being a slacker and merely exists. You take your position, and until you graduate from college, that is who you are. You work in groups with people that you may not like on subjects you don't like or know anything about. But still you work.

Come college, the added wrench into the group presentation problem is that people suddenly have lives. Joey and Anna have chapter on Monday nights and philanthropy meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so they can't meet then. Isabelle has student government meetings on Tuesdays, so she can't meet. Saturdays are reserved for whatever sport is in season, and Brad from the football/baseball/basketball team watches tapes/conditions on Sunday and Monday nights. So you attempt to work around these schedules, hoping that at some point, you can work on your project and really make it gel. Occasionally, this works and you produce a stellar result that even you are astounded at. But sometimes, you give a presentation that reeks of "We were never able to have a real meeting and we made this presentation via AIM late last night."

What no one tells you, or at least not in a manner that you are able to receive and process, is that these battles are merely an appetizer for the entree that is "The Real World." Those same personalities that have followed you since kindergarten? Yeah, they're still there in adulthood. And those meeting conflicts? Yep. Isabelle has a morale event, Joey and Anna have a conference call with the D.C. office and Brad is running late on one of his side projects, so he just can't make it at all. You look over your Outlook calendar and find an astounding array of multicolored tabs and little red flags indicating important appointments. You learn to balance the work habits of your co-workers; there's one guy who thrives on finishing his work right before the deadline and no sooner, another who's meticulous nature is somewhat perplexing and leaves you wondering about the state of your desk and filing cabinet. One guy who you just plain don't understand and who has a remarkable ability to relate everything you say to a story he once heard or something that once happened to him.

The challenge you face is to somehow navigate all of that, and turn out stellar presentations, regardless of your group members or the fact that any meeting you schedule conflicts. Because in "The Real World," there's probably not going to be a boss willing to accept sub-par work simply because none of you could sync up your Outlook calendars.

So a year into my "adult life," I'm finally able to look at those lessons I learned way back when, and trying to apply them to my everyday life. And as I do so, I seem to remember a common thread in the looks on the faces of all the professors who ever assigned group projects. I thought it was the glint of a sadistic authority figure, foisting pain and suffering onto poor, overworked and sleep deprived young people (though in some cases, I'm sure that's still true). But instead, I think that was the knowing look of a professor giving you the tools to succeed at a task you're not even aware you'll be attempting to complete.

Dress for Success

Growing up, my mother always stressed the importance of dressing well for school. There are no childhood pictures of me dressed in mismatched clothing with mussed hair. Instead, I'm usually perfectly put together in the latest fashions (which in some cases means truly unfortunate 80's and 90's ensembles that include side ponytails and acid washed jean skirts) that have been miniaturized into children's clothing.

In 6th grade, after forming a friendship with the classroom tomboy, I briefly engaged in schleppy dressing and much to my mother's chagrin, regularly wore Adidas shower shoes, grungy flannel shirts and baggy jeans to school. But upon entering Junior High, I began seeking out my mother's expert fashion advice, and returned to the land of pulled together looks. Even in college, I was never one of those girls who wore oversized sweatshirts and sweatpants to class. I just could not do it.

In college, professors always emphasized how important it was to dress well at work and that the wardrobe so embraced by college students across the country was something that would never be accepted in the workforce. This, apparently, was going to be the biggest shock to our post-collegiate systems.

To them I say "Ha!"

Everyday seems to bring a more egregious fashion horror to my attention. And mind you, now that I'm not getting free clothes from my parents, I'm no longer a huge fashion plate and I can more often than not be spotted wearing something as uninspired as a basic Gap outfit, but the things I see my co-workers wearing are awful.

Today, for example, was a nice summer day. And because there's no real dress code to speak of, many people were wearing shorts and flip flops. Middle aged men were decked out in their favorite Hawaiian print shirt and women layered tank tops in an attempt to balance workplace modesty with the fact that the temperature had finally hit the mid 80's. But then there were...the others. I haven't quite worked out what these people do for a living, but I'm almost certain it must be something that doesn't require contact with people. I also know that they're probably worth 2-3x time as much as I am, but the clothes they wear would never give anyone that impression.

Often, these men are rocking shoulder to mid-back length locks, and from behind, you'd simply think they were an ill-dressed woman. The color these men wear is almost always black, including a black t-shirt with some sort of self-effacing joke, or better yet, an in-joke that relates to their job. The t-shirts are the faded black-grey color that comes from washing them improperly, and are usually worn with khaki cargo pants that give the appearance of never having been washed. Their shoes are black New Balance, the sort that are commonly sported by Burger King workers and other members of the service industry, and are paired with crew socks that (are accidently) the same color as their shirt. The look is capped off with 3 day old facial hair and a greasy sheen over pale, pale skin, the sort that is produced after months spent indoors with the shades drawn playing WoW or some other RPG while cramming their gob with whatever was available in the vending machine (And you know what? I'm almost as nerdy as they are because I just used acronyms. Go me.).

As I said before, I cannot really judge these people because they're undoubtedly smarter and more wealthy than I am. And I know I wear unflattering clothing; everyone makes mistakes. But day after day, these men trudge through the hallways and between cubicles, go into conference rooms (presumably to attend meetings, hopefully not full of similarly ill-dressed men), and it defies logic that these people are actually gainfully employed. My most recent observation is that probably 70% of the men I've observed are married.

Which leads me to this point: As a woman, I know I could never a) be employed while dressing like that or b) secure a man wearing similar clothing. It's a sad, sad double standard that finds men able to dress that way when the women I work with, while again are not necessarily fashion plates, all appear to have put some effort into their clothing selections. Or at the very minimum, have you know, showered sometime recently.

And so it begins...

I graduated from college over a year ago. And like most college graduates, I was convinced of the infalliblity of my plans and sure that the ideas and wishes I'd set out for myself in the final, anxiety ridden moments of my academic career would be as brilliant in execution as they had been in my head.

But my plans just didn't work out the way I wanted them to, and instead I found myself working in corporate America, which I initially felt was a defeat I could never recover from. I'd spent the 4 months prior to graduation arguing my father to death about how soul crushing it would be to submit to the demands of a climate controlled, cubicle filled world of petty office politics, and so when I finally complied, I felt my life was over.

Instead, I've found that working has yielded many rewards I never thought possible. Aside from the thrill of receiving a weekly direct deposit and having my parents believe I am a somewhat responsible individual, I have been able to fully indulge in my love of people watching.

People watching was a skill I learned during my semester abroad. The country I lived in practiced people watching like it was a professional sport, but here in the land of Amerigo Vespucci, we do not openly stare at people without fear of receiving a death stare in return. The company I work for, however, employs thousands of highly intelligent shoe-gazers who are oblivious to my sport of choice, and so I now engage in my favorite activity on a daily basis.

This blog will detail my findings...they'll be of little (read: none) scientific merit, but will provide a little insight into the goings on my particular corner of corporate America.